THE INTERVIEW: HOWARD STRINGER: Rising Son ; Sony Has Appointed Its First Non-Japanese Head of Global Operations. and He's a Cardiff-Born, Oxford-Educated, Vietnam War Veteran Who Nearly Got Shot Down by the Viet Cong. He Talks to Raymond Snoddy

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One day in 1965 Howard Stringer called his college friend Roger Laughton in need of some very urgent advice. After completing his history degree at Oxford, Stringer, 23, had sailed to New York on the SS United States, attracted by the aura of Kennedy, the "new frontier" and the notion that America might be both a land of opportunity and a lot less stuffy than the UK.

His first job - fetching the mail and logging comments on The Ed Sullivan Show at the CBS broadcasting network - may have been modest but it was a start.

And then the draft papers for Vietnam arrived.

The options, outlined to Laughton, were very simple but each in its own way was life-changing.

"I have got three choices. I can go to Canada as many are doing. I can go back to the UK or I can stay here and get drafted," says Stringer.

Laughton - who was studying in the US at the time - was definitely going back to Britain and a traineeship at the BBC. He advised Stringer to do the same. But in a mixture of what he describes as "stubbornness" and an unwillingness for the story to end before it had really begun, Stringer chose the most difficult path and the draft to Vietnam. It was the most important decision the tall amiable Welshman has ever made.

Two years later Sergeant Stringer, a decorated member of the US Army Military Police, was sitting on his troop plane as it prepared to take off on its homeward journey to the US - only for Viet Cong machine gunners to open up as the plane went down the runway.

"We could see the tracers coming at us and I thought this is really great. I went all the way to the United States, got drafted and was brought down on my last day in Vietnam," says Stringer.

In fact, although the plane was hit, it made it - somewhat prophetically as it turned out - as far as Okinawa in Japan. "After that experience in Vietnam I thought I may have seriously miscalculated my life altogether," Stringer says of his feelings at the time.

Almost 40 years later, Sir Howard Stringer, 63, is the first non- Japanese head of Sony. Having determined to return to America and make his name as a journalist, the Cardiff-born son of a Royal Air Force squadron leader, who won a scholarship to Oundle, a private school near Peterborough, had been put in charge of one of the best- known corporations in the world.

He learned of the appointment last month when he was just about to leave for one of the high-powered lunches that litter Hollywood on Oscars day.

As he was about to go out the door, Stringer, already chairman of Sony America, took a call from Nobuyuki Idei, the global head of the company, who was about to retire at the age of 68. Idei said he had decided whom he wanted to succeed him, and it was Stringer. Being the first gaijin (foreigner) to run the multinational media, music and consumer electronics giant was a job that Stringer was not looking for and never expected to be offered. Things were going well at Sony America and he was looking forward to taking things a little easier and being able to spend more time with his wife, dermatologist Dr Jennifer Patterson, and his family in the UK. The Stringers have a home on Bledlow Ridge in the Chilterns.

Suddenly, instead of seeing more of his Oxfordshire country retreat (it has riding facilities and swimming pool but is not ostentatious), he faced the prospect of eating more airline food and taking sleeping pills to get his rest while airborne.

"I said I do understand this is an unusual honour but I am going to have a week to think about the consequences of all of this and whether indeed I can do it," says Stringer. The excitement of the job offer rather overshadowed the Oscars. Although Sony Pictures was the box-office leader last year it won only one Academy Award, for special effects in Spider- Man.

One of the key reasons why Stringer decided to say yes after his week of contemplation was the number of Japanese executives from Sony who rang, one by one, and urged him to accept the job. …